Soul Calibur IV hands-on

We got hands-on time with the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Soul Calibur IV...and we liked what we saw. Read on for our full impressions.

In contrast to their Western brethren, Japanese fighting games tend to make small, subtle refinements that only become clear after months of play... a fact that sometimes leaves fans and critics cold (see Tekken). Soul Calibur IV is no exception. At first glance, Soul Calibur IV looks and plays exactly like a "better" version of the past Soul Calibur games...but dig deeper and you'll see some intriguing upgrades that are worth a closer look.

Fierce Fighting Females

In the pre-release version we played, the character select screen showed 20 character slots, though only four fighters were playable: ninja hellion Taki, the sword- and shield-wielding Cassandra, halberd-toting Seong Mi-na, and the armor-encased Hilde. Of these four fighters, Hilde was the only playable new character...though she made a big impression. Fighting with a short sword and a huge spear, Hilde is able to pressure even distant opponents. Her one-armed spear thrusts allowed her to poke and prod from almost a full screen away, so you'll need to sidestep and dash to avoid her lunges. Hilde seems to be very powerful -- even annoying -- and she'll likely make a strong choice for Soul Calibur newcomers. The other characters we tried played very close to their previous incarnations in past games, though there are some small changes for balance (some powerful moves have been slowed down, others sped up). Overall, it felt like Soul Calibur, and we mean that as a compliment.

Soul Calibur has always felt faster and looser than other 3D fighters, and as such, has found popularity as both a button-masher and a top-tier tournament game. Soul Calibur IV is as easy as ever to play, partly because there are just four buttons: vertical slashes (which hit kneeling opponents), horizontal slashes, kick, and guard. Soul Calibur pros know that tapping forward and guard at the same time will counter an opponent's attack and give you a split-second to attack; we found that this technique worked quite well in Soul Calibur IV and bought us opportunities against more experienced opponents. We put up a good fight with Taki, getting a five-win streak (until GayGamer editor and Kotaku contributor Flynn De Marco ended our ambitions). The game still plays fast and fun.

We did notice one big difference concerning ring-outs. Ring-outs, or scoring an instant victory by driving an enemy off the stage perimeter, have been greatly toned down for Soul Calibur IV. Many of the stages are partially surrounded with walls or other barriers, making ring out opportunities rarer. Forcing a foe out of the ring also seems to require more force and persistence than before, but if you're crafty you can still leverage ring-outs to your benefit. We found that kick combos worked best in driving opponents out, but your mileage may vary.

Vader wasn't on display, but he displayed some impressive skills in a brief video appearance.

Vader wasn't on display, but he displayed some impressive skills in a brief video appearance.

Only four characters were playable: Taki, Cassandra, Seong Mi-na, and newcomer Hilde

Only four characters were playable: Taki, Cassandra, Seong Mi-na, and newcomer Hilde

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